Luka Bloom » Media Information


With Turf, Luka Bloom has quite literally made a solo album; almost without exception, the sounds that you hear are his voice and guitar. Although the concept is very back-to-basics, the album is as full of sound as if Luka were backed by a band. That's because, for ten days in January, he wasn't simply strumming a guitar in front of a mike, but playing in a large studio at Windmill Lane in Dublin meant for recording live bands. (In fact, the Rolling Stones had just left.) Engineers Paul Ashe-Browne and Brian Masterson strung mikes around the room, on the ceiling, and along the floor as if they were putting colored lights on a Christmas tree. What they captured was the sound of Luka playing in the room - a big, beautiful sound that defies most preconceptions about what one man and a guitar can produce.

Luka Bloom "I never wanted "Turf" to be a live album, with clapping and whistling, etc.," Luka explains. "Yet there was a simple fact haunting me: that the sound generated with my songs on stage was what worked most successfully. And I wanted this record totally to reflect that feeling, whereas previous records of mine just suggested it."

"So, how to create this record without the live baggage? Brian, Paul and I created a totally live environment, with a stage, P.A. and lights. But I recorded in solitude, because the 'audience' is each individual who buys the record. The sound is the big live sound, but the performances are intimate. It's a one-on-one show. Stadium folk music for the bedroom."

However, one night at Windmill was different. Luka invited in an audience comprised of serious fans he'd contacted in anticipation of the recording. They had waited in the December rain to buy tickets for his shows at Whelan's in Dublin; this was Luka's way of saying thanks - and adding a certain edge and unpredictability to the proceedings.

As Luka recalls, "After five days we brought in an audience, and I did this one-in-one show with 130 people, asking them not to respond with applause, but to simply be there! We captured the atmosphere and used four songs from that night on the record."

A week after the Windmill sessions were completed, Luka and engineer Ashe-Browne took their equipment on the road, to one of Luka's favorite clubs, the Tivoli in Utrecht, Holland. There they recorded two shows, not so much to preserve Luka's performances this time, but to capture the audience's participation. The enthusiastic Dutch fans provided a spontaneous sing-along to "The Fertile Rock", which became, on the record, the song's striking introduction.

Luka unveiled most of the songs that would comprise "Turf" in a series of Dublin shows last summer and honed them throughout the fall touring Europe. "The Fertile Rock", however, had appeared in a different version earlier last year as part of The Sound Of Stone, Artists For Mullaghmore, an Irish album raising funds for, and promoting the cause of, the Burren Action Group. Although the song could be about the Australian outback, the American Southwest, or the Alaskan wilderness, "The Fertile Rock" protests the Irish government's plans to build an interpretive center in the heart of the ecologically fragile Burren, a world-renowned haven for rare flora carved out of the rocky land by an ancient glacier. On "Turf", Luka also touches on the issue of Ireland's itinerant traveler population, which he first dealt with in the moody and evocative video of "Rescue Mission" from Riverside, the story of a traveler boy's encounter with a Dublin girl. "Freedom Song", in part, recounts the story of traveler activist Nan Joyce.

"I was in America during the Clinton campaign," Luka explains, "and was fascinated by the number of women being elected to office. And I discovered a great book called "I Dreamed a World", which profiles, in essays and photos, the lives of great African-American women. I sensed a similarity between the struggle and dignity of these women and the same struggle and dignity of Irish women, especially women in the traveling community, often victims of both racism and sexism. Hence, "Freedom Song".

At the heart of "Turf" is "Diamond Mountain", Luka's most recent composition, which had its first performance in front of his fans that night in Windmill Lane. Diamond Mountain is an actual place in Connemara, where Luka and photographer Frank Ockenfels went to shoot the album art, but it also represents the spirit of a place - a feeling and a memory of home.

"Irish people understand displacement," Luka says, "We are indeed scattered everywhere. There is much displacement in "Turf". There is longing, and also belonging. I feel a sense of belonging in "Diamond Mountain". It's my turf."

The only other voice on "Turf" comes from Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh, singer for the acclaimed Irish band Altan, who harmonizes with Luka on "Sunny Sailor Boy", a song Mike Scott of the Waterboys gave Luka that has already become a highlight of Luka's shows. (The Dutch fans had sung along to that one too, but somehow Mairead's voice alone rather magically captured the mood of the track.)

The album credits end with a line in Irish: "Do mo mhaimi, i mo smaointe go Deo." Luka translates: "To my mother, in my thoughts forever." He adds, "Though she passed on in September 1992, my mother's spirit is very much alive in "Turf". She is the great inspiration."

Reprise Records

© Rena Bergholz - Luka Bloom Page